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Review: 'The Ring' gets under your skin

Film an effective psychological thriller

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

The Ring
Naomi Watts stars in "The Ring."

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(CNN) -- A videotape that kills you seven days after you see it is that the center of the psychological thriller "The Ring." Based on "Ringu" (1998), one of the most successful films in Japanese history, "The Ring" is more eerie and spooky than it is out-and-out scary -- but oh, is it effective.

Think "The Blair Witch Project" (1999) meets David Lynch -- then pretend that "Blair Witch" was even half as frightening as it was hyped up to be.

Naomi Watts -- who starred in Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" -- plays Rachel Keller, a reporter for a Seattle newspaper whose teenage niece dies mysteriously. After finding out that three other teenagers also suddenly died at exactly the same time, and that all four had viewed a strange videotape seven days earlier, she begins to investigate. Is the story about the videotape just another urban legend? Or is it the real thing?

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Unfortunately, rather than finding the story, she becomes the story after she, her ex-boyfriend Noah (Martin Henderson), and her young son Aidan (David Dorfman) all view the tape in question. The clock is now ticking: seven days until they die. Not a good career move.

Whispering 'boo'

Highly stylized and visually stunning, "The Ring," directed by Gore Verbinski, sucks you in slowly, then whispers "boo" in your ear just when you least expect it. The highly evocative story is greatly enhanced by Bojan Bazelli's brilliant cinematography, including the actual video itself. (Yes, you do get to see the video in the film. No, you won't die. At least I don't think you will.)

Watts has had a much longer road to fame and fortune then her best friend and fellow Australian, Nicole Kidman. She is excellent in this leading role, which proves that her stellar performance in "Mulholland Drive" was not a fluke. She strikes a perfect balance between skepticism and the slow realization of the truth in regard to the deadly power of the videotape.

Henderson does a wonderful job playing the devil's advocate, challenging Rachel's theories at every turn. "The Ring" is most definitely Watts' film from beginning to end, but Henderson does an admirable job as the second banana to her showy role.

Young Dorfman, who played Gwyneth Paltrow's son in "Bounce" (2000), is completely believable in his small, but pivotal role. Brian Cox also offers a well crafted turn as Richard Morgan, the man at the center of the mystery surrounding the fatal video.

Chill factors

Screenwriter Ehren Kruger, no relation to Freddie, is familiar with spooky topics. His writing credits include the thriller "Arlington Road" (1999), starring Jeff Bridges, as well as "Scream 3" (2000), featuring David Arquette and Courtney Cox.

Kruger's script begins almost like another version of the "Scream" series, with two girls exchanging scary stories. But the tension kicks in quite quickly when their spooky fiction turns into fact.

Also inherent to the chill factor of this story is the fact that almost everyone has an unlabeled videotape lying around somewhere. Add the fact that the people who see the tape know they have only seven days to live (they receive a phone call right after viewing), and the atmosphere gets downright claustrophobic.

There is little violence and no blood in this creepy thriller. It's truly a fascinating mind game that twists and turns itself into your subconscious. You may not be screaming your head off or hiding under your seat during this film, but you'll find it will linger in your mind long after you leave the theater.

Oh, and there is also a nice little twist at the end. Don't leave the theater too early, or you'll be sorry.

"The Ring" opens nationwide on Friday and is rated PG-13.

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